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Burzynski! Alternative medicine pioneer conquers tumors, FDA

June 17th, 2010

Riveting documentary exposes official misbehavior in suppressing cancer pioneer

NCI patented medicines while FDA tried to jail their Polish discoverer

Patients sob at their lucky escape from the forces which hold back progress

Stanislaw Burzynski has been rescuing children from radiation and chemotherapy with nontoxic remedies which seem to reliably boost the body's capacities to overcome cancer, and has many grateful adults to provide heartfelt testimony as to his achievement, as well as copious publications in the peer reviewed medical literature, and has excited envy at the NCI - but the FDA has done its best to send him to jail even as it cooperates with his trials. The fine, illusion busting, investigative cancer documentary “Burzynski”, whose limited, one week Oscar-qualifying run just ended at New York’s Cinema Village and in LA, is a must see for any intelligent observer of the politics of medicine in the US.

Readers should by no means credit the irresponsible reviews it suffered at the New York Times from freelancer Jeannette Catsoulis, the familiar Times’ pit bull for movies on unorthodox medicine or science, tho’ here able to complain only of the “visual aridity” of the documents presented which “destroy the film” and “trample the eyes”, while acknowledging that “director Eric Merola, presents Dr. Burzynski as a stoic victim of patent fraud, government harassment and scientific sabotage. No one appears to contest the efficacy of his treatment; the problem, the film suggests, is a pharmaceutical industry with nothing to gain — and much to lose — from the introduction of a highly successful, nontoxic competitor to chemotherapy and radiation”, or the Village Voice where Ella Taylor, evidently a tyro fresh to the vicious politics faced by alternative medicine pioneers, which is the topic of the movie, is so inattentive, seeing “no credible proof of the drug’s success” in this “conspiratorial rubbish”, that she had to edit her piece after publication, and raised a serious question as to whether negative reviewers actually sit through much of the movie.

More attentive takes listed at Movie Review Intelligence include Kevin Thomas at the Los Angeles Times and Ronnie Scheib at Variety, though we would choose James Van Maanen’s review and interview at TrustMovies as the best and brightest so far.

Reflex repression

Such flat dismissals of “Burzynski” are specimens of the same uninformed and possibly venal teacher’s pet hostility to novelty from outsiders that forms roadblocks to progress in every field, but especially medicine, where the media has a very bad track record in unfairly damning news of progress outside the dominant institutions – for example, the powerful expose of shoddy and unproven AIDS science in House of Numbers.

All the major elements of what is wrong with modern medicine are present – the overwhelming official prejudice against novelty from outside the system, the distrust of independent unorthodox practitioners and the heartfelt testimony of their patients, the devotion of power to the defense of current treatment even though it achieves little and imposes its own horrendous torment on patients, and the immense influence of pharma on regulating officials who tend to end up with jobs in industry after they serve in government.

This kind of unthinking resistance and counterattack is the theme of “Burzynski”, which exposes the irrational antagonism of FDA officials towards a successful maverick who has at the very least found a frequent cure for hitherto uniformly and rapidly fatal brain cancers.

Too many documents? The well arranged document-ary lives up to its description and proves its shocking and exhilarating case with documents more than personal interviews, it is true, and leaves out “balance” ie the standard defensive sources at the NCI and elsewhere. But this is either because those who stood up for him in the past wouldn’t talk any more (Petronas) or because Merola was discreetly avoiding the kind of vicious counterattack suffered by its hero by not alerting the vast and powerful opposition before his film could be released.

For “Burzynski” tells the tale of one of the most distinguished and successful pioneers of alternative medicine in cancer treatment, Stanislaw Burzynski MD PhD, his clinic, and the trials and tribulations faced by this sturdy optimist in fighting the vindictive, reflex hostility of FDA officials, self serving “quackbusters” paid by the insurance companies and other mindless servants of the status quo for over three decades.

Burzynski’s bright idea

Burzynski has a rock steady air about him, and even has a sense of humor about the irrational antics of his tormenters, possibly because he knows that he is on the right track with his magic wand in cancer tumorsThe Polish born, West Houston based Burzynski had a bright idea early in his career, when he noticed that certain harmless peptides are seen in the blood and urine of cancer patients at less than normal levels, and wondered whether they might be involved in the body’s natural defenses against cancer.

The result, as covered in his over 200 articles in predominantly peer reviewed journals, is that he has been treating cancer in patients since 1977 with a novel protocol based on boosting these constituents (now about twenty varieties of small peptides and amino acid derivatives, synthesized since the early eighties and called antineoplastons by Burzynski) with signal success, judging from his carefully kept records, voluminous publications on his lab work which shows they interfere with cancer cells, and the fervent testimony of his patients cured of different tumors, and their families.

As the film spends its first half hour demonstrating, his results are promising enough to deserve the opposite of the political and legal attacks that have dogged him every step of the way to the Phase III trials now finally in view. The egregious assaults on his work (and it seems clear, the lives of his patients) have included confiscation of his entire records for 14 years, costly prosecutions by local authorities with a view to jailing him for several lifetimes, luckily all in vain, and a blatant attempt on the part of NCI staff (including a woman who earlier served as his consultant) to rob him of his patents by supplanting them with their own.

Fair and lovely, and not dead

The grand claim made at the start, that this MD, PhD physician and biochemist has “discovered the genetic mechanism that can cure most cancers,” may be over reaching, but one thing is certain: Burzynski’s potions serve notoriously deadly and untreatable brain tumor patients better than the standard expensive and medieval regime of radiation, surgery and chemotherapy with its horrendous side effects which do little except delay death by a few months, if that. The horrors visited upon children with brain tumors without hope of real benefit by the orthodox priesthood in cancer are vividly described by parents who turned to Burzynski in the hope, quite often realized, that he could do better with his non toxic remedies.

Jodi Fenton has very good reason to feel she was saved by BurzynskiSome of the examples of his success are startling, with those diagnosed with fatal disease but lucky enough to come under the kind doctor’s care telling of their escape from the tortures of the damned years later, having won total remission and now flourishing in youth and beauty. When the current image of one condemned boy, now a handsome 18 year old, reached the screen the audience at the crowded penultimate showing at the Cinema Village burst out in applause.

The humorous twinkle in the stoic Burzynski’s eyes as he recounts the irrational but costly attacks of his enemies must reflect his utter certainty that he is on the right track, a confidence presumably bolstered when the official at NCI in charge of Phase II trials of his discovery, who went to the FDA (Michael Friedman), together with a consultant Burzynski once hired (Dvorit Samid) and a drug company which had offered to partner him (Elan Pharmaceuticals), paid him the compliment of trying to supplant his patents. Dvorit Samid was a believer in the promise of Burzynski’s method, but was banned by the NCI from mentioning Burzynski in her publications on the breakthrough, even as a reference.

An approach which makes sense

However unorthodox it may sound to the naive (and extracting useful products from urine is not as unusual as Ella Taylor the Voice reviewer seems to think – women all over have taken Premarin, an extract from horse urine, for years, for relief from symptoms of menopause) his protocol is officially recognized as promising both in these NCI patent applications and in the establishment of FDA approved Phase II and now soon (when the requisite millions are raised) Phase III trials.

Saving children from death and worse - the current conventional treatment for central nervous system tumorsThe principle is prima facie sensible and the proposed mechanism makes sense, and the results seem now well established. According to his careful records of FDA licensed patient treatment and outcome, it typically results in permanent remission in about a quarter of his cases compared with zero remission for orthodox treatment, if separate studies on the outcome of each approach are compared. The urgent public need, clearly, is for Phase III trials to be done as soon as possible.

Exactly how his urine extracts (can you say “antineoplastons”? its last syllable should be short, though in the film it is emphasized in the French manner) work their wonders is not fully detailed, but is generally supposed to be action against cancer gene expression. What is made crystal clear is the mechanism by which progress in medical science is stultified. Unless you have the ideal lawyer as Burzynski does in Richard Jaffe, who has a degree from Stanford in the Philosophy of Science, and whose Congressional testimony is featured on camera, you will be shot down by the FDA and put out of business.

If you are outside the great institutions it is almost impossible anyway to get the entrenched old guard to look open mindedly at your novelty in medicine, however good your results. In fact, they will naturally treat it as a threat to their present style of life, and counter attack (the HIV/AIDS establishment is a perfect example of this attitude, even though after 25 years there is no mechanism for the reigning and unproven claim). The FDA acts as the palace guard keeping newcomers outside, the media act as their barking dogs, and all the while Big Pharma bankrolls the status quo.

Dining on the public grave

His mother broke down sobbing when recounting how her son Dustin Kinnari was saved before a Congressional enquiry in 1996, and when the film showed his current state of 18 year old health, the audience in New York City burst out clappingIn carefully exploring how Burzynski himself is mistreated, the well developed expose takes the lid off what is nothing more than a disgusting can of political and mercenary worms dining off the corpse of the public interest in cancer.

All the major elements of what is wrong with modern medicine are present – the overwhelming official prejudice against novelty from outside the system, the distrust of independent unorthodox practitioners and the heartfelt testimony of their patients, the devotion of power to the defense of current treatment even though it achieves little and imposes its own horrendous torment on patients, and the immense influence of pharma on regulating officials who tend to end up with jobs in industry after they serve in government.

Such complaints have been widespread for many years but this film’s account is exceptional in its clear exposition of just how unjustified and automated are the official attacks on independents such as Burzynski. He is five times taken before grand juries even though they not only refuse to indict but jury members join in demonstrating with protesters in subsequent cases.

Abuse of power

The Texas authorities go after him at the bidding of the national office of FDA even though no law forbids his treatments locally (until 1995, when they changed the law), and eventually after losses in court the FDA begins to approve his work. Even so, his records remain confiscated for twelve years, preventing him from easily treating patients without laboriously Xeroxing his own records at the offices where they are held, which on the basis of past experience costs some patients their lives. A useless NCI trial conducted by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center uses its own protocol, diluting the medication 170 times and evidently costing the nine patients their lives, according to Burzynski’s ignored protests. And why did it use patients who were so far advanced in their deterioration, that Burzinski’s medicine was unlikely to do much good? Was the renowned Mayo Clinic trying to sabotage his work?

All along the legal complaints do not suggest that his treatments are anything but harmless and beneficial (“the efficacy of antineoplastons in the treatment of human cancers is not of issue in these proceedings” – Texas State Board of Medical Examiners). In fact, by 1995 it is quite apparent and acknowledged by an expert at the Cleveland Clinic in the movie and other other establishment reviewers that the Burzynski treatment is both safe and evidently often stunningly beneficial, and will produce complete remissions in many more patients if they are not irradiated and drugged under the standard regimen beforehand, a regimen whose awful effects in at least one case produce a death even after Burzynski had erased the tumor completely.

Trail of stunning documents

Burzinski has a thriving practice but his chances of funding Phase III trials seem a little more complicated than they would be if the NCI handed over some of its public money for what looks like the anti-cancer leap of the quarter centuryA documentary maker cannot shoot film inside the minds of the actors in his drama, of course, but New York filmmaker Eric Merola powerfully suggests that money is at the root of all this evil as he takes filmgoers on a tour of the documents that expose all these horrid truths , bolstered with interviews mainly with Burzynski and Julian Whitaker MD, of the Whitaker Wellness Institute in Newport Beach, California. Nicholas Patronas MD who was chief of neuroradiology at the NCI is featured not on camera but in Congressional testimony being highly supportive, as well as in a report on Burzynski’s cases.

Only the most cynical will find the journey dull. It is high drama, with lives at stake. Merola uses an effective technique to clarify and dramatize written material which is usually safely fenced off from prying public eyes by medical and official jargon. He reads judiciously selected phrases out loud as the camera jumps from one to the next, leaving out the obfuscating Latin, but ensuring the audience gets it from the horse’s mouth, not from a voiceover summary.

The real criminality

The bottom line is that the film portrays an endemic vice of the current medical culture, the unthinking, lethal prejudice against potential cures which are Not Invented Here which motivates attempts to kill the messenger at the same time as appropriating the gifts he bears. Burzynski seems a sterling character who can see the absurdity of the criminally irresponsible tactics of his opponents even as he points out that his own experience indicates they are costing patients their lives.

But for public servants to admit on the one hand that his ministrations are effective against deadly cancers immune to current regimens, and on the other try to railroad him into jail and take him out as a leading competitor in the medical Olympics of curing cancer, as the film documents, is self evidently crooked.

At least one lawyer is telling the filmmaker that the miscreants in his case deserve jail, and has offered to put them there (see James van Maanen’s excellent review and interview at TrustMovies: Seek out BURZYNSKI (maybe its doctor, too) in Eric Merola’s new documentary; Interview with the filmmaker

In summary, no one who is touched by cancer should fail to look into Burzynski for themselves, and obtain the DVD immediately from Eric Merola’s movie website, Burzynski the movie, which also features upcoming showings, such as the ones in Asbury Park, New Jersey, June 23-26, where Merola will appear for a post film panel discussion and a current breast cancer patient of Burzynski’s.

Best good news in cancer for years

For the first time for many people, they will see that alternative medicine has been offering better treatments for cancer as in other diseases for thirty years, unremarked in the media except for special mention usually accompanied by disparagement, and enthusiastically repressed by the saviors of the status quo. In this case, however, Burzynski and his workers have overcome the counter army and achieved buildings that cover two city blocks, FDA permission to proceed with Phase III trials, and a growing population of sick made well from the deadliest of tumors.

Let’s hope that this thorough expose of both the bad news and the best good news in cancer in years is on its way to an Oscar, since its story should be disseminated as widely as possible.

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